The Damned

Year: 1961

Production: Hammer / Swallow

Director: Joseph Losey

Starring: MacDonald Carey, Oliver Reed, Shirley Ann Field, Viveca Lindfors, Alexander Knox

Screenwriter: Evan Jones

Based on The Children of Light (1960) by Henry L. Lawrence

96 minutes, cut to 87 minutes; B/W

Made in the UK by expatriate US director Losey, this film so dismayed the distributors, Columbia, that they kept it on the shelf for two years before releasing it, and then with major cuts. A US visitor to an English seaside town (Carey) becomes involved with the sister (Field) of the leader of some tough, local bikers. The pair accidentally learn of a secret, illegal military project to irradiate children kept in underground isolation, thereby rendering them capable of surviving nuclear holocaust. (The otherwise powerful film is partly devalued by Losey's casual approach to science; gaffes include the belief that the irradiated children would have abnormally low body temperatures but otherwise healthy!) Ironically, Carey and Field are fatally contaminated by the very children they seek to free. Losey's moral indignation has a paranoid streak, but the film's evocative, allusive imagery is strong, in particular when the children communicate with their obsessed, scientist "father" (Knox) by tv and in the final shots, showing a helicopter hovering like a giant carrion bird over the small boat carrying the dying couple - echoing the grotesque, sometimes bird-like sculptures executed by the scientist's lover (in reality by distinguished sculptress Elisabeth Frink), which stand on the clifftops nearby. The Damned is one of the most memorable sf films of a period when few really good directors would come within miles of the genre.

The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction

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